Save on legal fees; watch for 7 common billing errors

Issue: Invoices from outside attorneys can include expensive mistakes.

Risk: Lost money for the company, and lost credibility for you if someone else discovers the error.

Action: File these seven errors and refer to them the next time you retain an attorney.

If part of your job is dealing with outside attorneys and reviewing their invoices, know what kind of overcharges to look for. You can save the company money and prove your bottom-line impact to the top brass. Here are the seven most common errors to watch for:

1. Overtime. Law firms bill higher rates for evening and weekend work. If your lawyer faced time pressure to meet a deadline, overtime is justified. But you shouldn't pay higher rates if he could have done the work during normal hours.

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2. Factual discrepancies. Law firms track which attorney provides each service and how long it took. You should do the same. Keep a file of every contact with each attorney. Compare your notes with the charges.

3. Duplication of effort. On the bill, inspect who's working on your case. If several attorneys collaborate, you shouldn't have to pay whenever someone new reads your file for an hour to "catch up."

4. Paying for schooling. When you hire an attorney who claims to have experience in your industry, you shouldn't pay for her to spend hour after hour "boning up" on the basics of your business.

5. Vague descriptions. Request that your attorney attach specific times to each task. That way, you hold her accountable for a more detailed listing of her time.

6. Sloppy math. Always check the totals and subtotals to make sure the law firm tabulated properly.

7. Photocopying. If your photocopying charges seem too high, confirm that you're being billed the amount specified in your fee agreement.